Fascinating Facts About Sylvia Plath

The unabridged journals of Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963) was a gifted poet who on the surface seemed to have it all: ambition, brains, and beauty. But she was beset by a lifelong struggle with depression that led to suicide at the age of thirty.

Following are fascinating facts about Sylvia Plath, some known well, others less so, but all contributing to a portrait of this beloved poet’s brief life.

Because most of her work was published after her untimely death, she wasn’t able to enjoy the fruits of her labors. Yet her place in the American literary canon is well deserved.


She published her first poem at age 9

A week after her eighth birthday, Plath’s father died from complications due to a foot amputation. In the same year, she published her first poem in the Boston Herald’s children’s section.

Over the course of the next few years, she continued to publish multiple poems in regional magazines and newspapers. Her first published poem was called “Poem” (Boston Herald, 1941)

“Hear the crickets chirping
In the dewy grass.
Bright little fireflies
Twinkle as they pass.”


She first pursued studio art

When Sylvia Plath initially enrolled at Smith College, her first choice of major was studio art, but after discovering her brilliance in writing, her professors encouraged her to major in English instead. The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery mounted a retrospective of her work in 2017.

Although often associated with a darker, perhaps more dramatic spirit, Sylvia Plath also had a wry sense of humor that was on display in her collages. She would create visual art out of anything she could find, including the American magazines her mother mailed to her in England.

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newspaper clipping about Sylvia Plath's disappearance

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She went missing while a student at Smith

In 1950, Plath began attending Smith College and at first, seemed to flourish. She edited The Smith Review, and during the summer after her third year of college was awarded a coveted position as guest editor at Mademoiselle magazine, spending a month in New York City. 

The experience wasn’t what she had hoped, and it began a downward spiral. Plath made her first suicide attempt in 1953 by crawling under her house and taking her mother’s sleeping pills.

She survived this first suicide attempt after lying unfound in a crawl space for three days, later writing that she “blissfully succumbed to the whirling blackness that I honestly believed was eternal oblivion.” The incident was reported in local papers, reporting her disappearance and recovery.


She was a guest editor for Mademoiselle

In August of 1952, Sylvia Plath won a fiction writing contest held by Mademoiselle, the New York City-based women’s magazine, earning her the position as guest editor in June 1953. Her experiences during this time in NYC later became an episode in her novel The Bell Jar (1963).


She married Ted Hughes in less than four months 

Plath first met poet Ted Hughes on February 25, 1956, at a party in Cambridge, England. She was there on a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship. The couple married on June 16, 1956, and honeymooned in Benidorm, Spain.

The following year, Plath and Hughes moved to the Massachusetts, where she taught at her alma mater, Smith College. It was a challenge for her to find the time and energy to write when she was teaching. By the end of 1959 after another move and extensive travel, the couple moved back to London.

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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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The Bell Jar was first published under a pseudonym

The Bell Jar was published in England just prior her suicide in 1963 under a pseudonym, Victoria Lucas. It was released on January 14, 1963 under a pseudonym, Victoria Lucas, and was published in the U.S. under her real name years later (April 11, 1971). 

The Bell Jar  reflects Plath’s real-life struggles with severe depression and a breakdown through her character, Esther Greenwood. Widely praised upon its American publication, it’s fascinating to read the original, in-depth review in the New Yorker:

“A biographical note in the present edition makes it plain that the events in the novel closely parallel Sylvia Plath’s twentieth year. For reasons for which we are not wholly to blame, our approach to the novel is impure; The Bell Jar is fiction that cannot escape being read in part as autobiography. It begins in New York with an ominous lightness, grows darker as it moves to Massachusetts, then slips slowly into madness.”


She took her life in the house where W. B. Yeats had lived

From 1962 to 1963, Plath and her two children lived in the same flat that the Irish poet W. B. Yeats had once occupied; she considered this a good omen for her own writing. As is well known, she died by putting her head in the gas oven of her kitchen while her children slept soundly in a room nearby.


Her suicide note consisted of four words

It may be surprising given how extensively and evocatively Plath wrote of death and suicide in her poetry, that she left a note of only four words before taking her own life.

Her suicide note said simply “Please call Dr. Horder” — along with this doctor’s phone number. The debate has stirred ever since — was her suicide intentional, or a cry for help? Could this even be considered a suicide note at all?

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Sylvia Plath 2012 USPS stamp

Sylvia Plath’s Suicide Note: Death Knell, or Cry for Help?

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Most of her poetry was published posthumously

The Colossus was published in 1960, while she was still alive The poetry in this collection was intense, personal, and delicately crafted. Though she had been separated from him at the time of her death, Ted Hughes inherited Plath’s literary estate.

Much of Plath’s work was unpublished while she was alive, and Hughes gradually published some of the collections she left behind.

In 1965 Hughes released Ariel, a collection of poems Plath wrote expressing her battle with the darkness of depression, and the difficulty of their relationship. Throughout the 1970s, Hughes continued to release Plath’s poems, though not without occasional criticism over his selections.

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Sylvia Plath on Bookshop

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The suicid of Ted Hughes’ partner mirrored Plath’s

Ted Hughes left Sylvia Plath for Assia Wevill in 1962. In time, their relationship became fraught and troubled. In a tragic twist of fate, the stresses of scrutiny over her continued relationship with Hughes, the disapproval of his family, and his continued infidelity took their toll on Assia.

She dragged a bed into the kitchen of her Clapham flat, dissolved sleeping tablets in a glass of water and gave the drink to her daughter (generally believed to be Hughes’ child) before finishing the rest herself. Mirroring Plath’s suicide method, she then turned on the gas stove and got into bed with her young daughter; both died.

2 Responses to “Fascinating Facts About Sylvia Plath”

  1. Thank you for reminder. Weather permitting I will visit her grave on Saturday It s a short train ride away! I may lay flowers on her grave. There will probably other people there!

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